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« More on marriage at DCwatch | Main | Stand for Marriage Maine: "not about hate" »

November 05, 2009

Continuing the struggle, state by state

Ashley Surdin writes in today's Washington Post:

Gay rights advocates across the country are regrouping after a crushing defeat at the ballot box in Maine, pledging to continue their state-by-state effort to promote marriage equality and to turn their attention to a federal court case in California....

"I think the reality is that we came very close but didn't succeed in dispelling the distractions and fears that are keeping a small slice of people from treating others fairly," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a national gay rights group. Wolfson, as well as spokespeople for other gay rights organizations, blamed an opposition ad campaign for stoking voters' fears.

There was a rally at Dupont Circle yesterday evening (hastily put together by local National Equality March organizers) to protest the Maine decision, and one speaker insisted that it was time to abandon the state-by-state strategy in favor of a national solution. The fact that marriage laws are the province of the states does not matter to this person, any more than the details of how change actually happens. Just yell your demands into a megaphone: "Total equality now! No excuses!" and it will magically happen, like Tinkerbell getting better if enough children clap.

The fact is that our movement is a lot stronger as a result of increased state-by-state organizing, and the numbers are trending in our favor. We won ballot measures in Washington State and Kalamazoo, Michigan, and openly gay candidates won in several cities around the country. Yes, the slow pace of change is frustrating, as is the susceptibility of many voters to the over-the-top slanders by our opponents. Yes, activism is hard work — assuming, at least, that by activism you mean something more than showing up at rallies.

A mundane bit of business correspondence last evening reminded me of the value of the sort of work that does not make for dramatic scenes at the Dupont Circle fountain: I received mail from the pro bono attorneys for the Campaign for All D.C. Families (I was the intermediary who obtained the legal services), invoicing the Campaign for the filing fees for incorporation in D.C. and for the IRS nonprofit status application. I promptly delivered the bill to Campaign board chair Peter Rosenstein, who was expecting it. The Campaign has been established, with broad support within the D.C. activist commmunity, not because we expect to have to fight a ballot initiative, but to be prepared for any contingency.

Being prepared requires planning and not just reacting. This makes us stronger. Indeed, the reason a ballot measure on marriage in D.C. is unlikely is that GLAA 30 years ago persuaded the D.C. Council to change the law to prohibit initiatives or referenda that would have people voting on other people's rights. Frank Kameny and the others who worked on that effort so long ago did not know if or when their work would pay off. It was merely good contingency planning, and it is bearing fruit now.


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